Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jesus Wept.

I heard a horrifying news item last week about a young girl who chocked herself TO DEATH while 7 prison guards stood by watching. The young girl - only 19 years old & with a history of mental illness - had originally been incarcerated after throwing crab apples at a postman. Ashley had been transferred 17 times - bounced back and forth between prisons, treatment centres and hospitals - and had a history of over 150 'security incidents' in 11 months.

150 'security incidents' in 11 months!! Now THERE's a cry for help. But what help did she get? Apparently the guards stood watching because they had been instructed not to intervene as long as she was still breathing. In fact they waited almost half an hour before they called for any kind of medical help - didn't even check her vitals. A 19 year old child died in front of their eyes and they did NOTHING. Apparently senior officers didn't want to reinforce the negative behaviour. The help they gave was to 'urge' her to remove the ligature she had tied around her neck.

Ashley had been originally been given a short sentence but she kept having time added to her original term because of her behaviour and 'security incidents' while in custody. In fact she spent most of her time, 23 hours a day, in solitary confinement. Because of her mental illness. Because no one in the system stepped in and helped.

The thought that 7 guards - people who are paid to protect the inmates - stood and watched Ashley die in front of their eyes is horrific. I cannot imagine how any of them can live with themselves now. Oh, sure they were 'obeying' orders. I'd guess that's what many of the guards in Abu Ghraib said as well. And the horror that her family must feel when considering her time while incarcerated is inconceivable. My heart aches for their loss.

The officials who gave the orders that the guards so blindly followed should be charged with murder. This was a mental health issue. This was not a prison matter. Ashley didn't deserve to spend the final months of her much too young life in solitary confinement because of a mental illness. Ashley didn't deserve to die because the officials determined that she was 'crying wolf'. Where were the mental health professionals?

One can only hope and pray that something positive comes as a result of Ashley's death and that nothing like this ever happens again.

Jesus wept.

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